Suspect in murder of nine-year-old in northern Spain was interviewed 16 times while on parole

Francisco Javier Almeida, who is alleged to have killed a youngster called Álex in La Rioja last Thursday, was regularly reporting to the authorities after being released from prison, where he was serving a 30-year sentence

Óscar López-Fonseca
Crimen Lardero
Francisco Javier Almeida is taken to court on Sunday.GUARDIA CIVIL (Europa Press)

Francisco Javier Almeida López de Castro, the man suspected of murdering a nine-year-old child last Thursday in Lardero, in Spain’s northern La Rioja region, was subject to 16 “follow-up actions” or interviews, mostly in person, following his release from jail on April 8, 2020, according to his prison file. What’s more, sources from Spain’s prisons system told EL PAÍS that, among these meetings, there was a visit carried out by prison workers at the rental apartment where Almeida had been living since the end of last year, and where he allegedly killed the victim of last week’s crime, a young boy called Álex.

During these interviews, Almeida claimed that he was meeting the conditions of his release as set by the judge in question, which included following rules regarding his behavior, not changing his place of residence, and reporting any changes to his situation. He was also instructed to seek work and, every two months, attend the Logroño prison where he had been incarcerated.

Almeida was sentenced in 1998 to 30 years in prison, of which he was obliged to serve a maximum of 25 years. His crime was the killing and sexual assault of a real estate agent in Logroño. He was due to continue under the supervision of the Logroño jail until 2023, when his sentence would have been considered to have been served. He was also given a seven-year sentence in 1993 for sexual assault.

Last week the alarm was raised after Álex went missing from a park in Lardero where he was playing with his friends. His parents were in a nearby bar with a view of the area at the time. He was later found by three men in the landing of the building where Almeida lives. The suspect claimed to have found the boy unconscious there. Paramedics were unable to resuscitate the youngster, who had no visible signs of injury. Local residents reported that Almeida had tried on several prior occasions to lure little girls away with him on the promise of showing them his pets. At the time of the abduction, Álex was dressed as the little girl from The Exorcist given that it was Halloween.

Meetings with social workers

During 2020, social workers and prison staff held the first five meetings with Almeida, during which he reported having found work at a cleaning company, as well as informing the authorities of a timetable change for his working hours.

He also presented receipts for the payment of the civil liability of 40 million pesetas (€240,400) he was ordered to pay to the relatives of the victim of his previous crime. At the end of last year, he also requested a change of residence. Until then he had been living in the apartment belonging to his parents – who are both now deceased – in Logroño. He requested the move to the rental apartment in Río Linares street in Lardero, which is where he was arrested for last week’s killing. This request to change residence was communicated to the judge in question in writing, who authorized it.

The monitoring of Almeida was ramped up in 2021. Between January and September, there were another 11 “monitoring actions.” The 12th was scheduled for November. During these meetings, the alleged killer of young Álex reported a change to the phone number he was using. He also presented more receipts for the payments to the family of his previous victim, and also handed over copies of his work contract, payslips and receipts for the rental payment for his new home.

During this period, a prison worker turned up without warning at the apartment in Lardero to check that Almeida was still meeting the requirements set out by the judge. Nothing suspicious was detected.

The same prison sources also reported that the suspect was subject to control measures during the two months prior to his release on parole, when he was granted Spain’s “tercer grado,” or third-grade prison regime, which allows for partial release and the requirement to only spend the nights of Monday through Thursday in jail.

At the time, social workers and prison staff confirmed that Almeida had begun an active search for work, and that he had signed up as a jobseeker at the SEPE state-employment service. During the two months that he was on the third-grade regime, he presented receipts that showed he was paying the compensation to his victim’s family.

A protest held in Lardero (La Rioja) on Sunday in the wake of the killing of nine-year-old Álex.
A protest held in Lardero (La Rioja) on Sunday in the wake of the killing of nine-year-old Álex.Lino Rico

Had any breach of his conditions been recorded during the two months that he was on third grade or the 18 months that he was out on parole, the prison workers would have informed the judge, who would have revoked his permission. This is what will happen now, after being accused of causing the child’s death. This means that the 18 months that he was out on parole will not be discounted from the full sentence, legal sources explained.

Almeida’s release on parole was the culmination of a process that began in February 2020 in El Dueso prison in Cantabria, where Almeida had served practically all of his sentence for the 1998 killing under “second-grade” conditions. He had already enjoyed 39 prison furloughs without incident.

The prison board at the time voted not to improve Almeida’s conditions and grant him the third grade, although this decision was not unanimous. Almeida requested that this decision be appealed and the government’s Penal Institutions department sided with him. The first consequence of this was his transfer to the jail in Logroño, which is the nearest to his relatives, in order to make the open regime practical.

After this transfer, the board at his new prison reevaluated Almeida’s situation and decided to pass the request for parole to the relevant judge in La Rioja. This was on the basis that he met the three requisites set out in Article 90 of the Spanish criminal code: having served three-quarters of his sentence (he reached this point in 2017); having displayed good behavior; and enjoying third-grade conditions.

With this proposal from the prison, the judge called on the public prosecutor to produce a report on granting Almeida parole, and there was no opposition to this. On April 8, 2020, the judge granted his release with three years of his sentence still to go. That same day, Almeida left the jail in Logroño.

The suspect was one of 3,654 prisoners who were granted parole in Spain last year, which is an average of 10 a day according to statistics from Penal Institutions. These convicts are monitored by social workers from the same department and by so-called “verifiers,” a role created in 2017 and that is carried out by prison staff. At the start of this year, there were 63 of these verifiers working for the prisons controlled by the central government’s Interior Ministry (the Catalonia and Basque Country regions are in charge of their own prison systems). Not all jails count on these employees, but La Rioja does. Union sources have denounced the fact that the “[number of] personnel assigned to this function is clearly insufficient.”

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